early 14c., "to check, verify, regulate," from Anglo-French contreroller "exert authority," from Medieval Latin contrarotulus "a counter, register," from Latin contra- "against" (see contra) + rotulus, diminutive of rota "wheel" (see roll (n.)). From a medieval method of checking accounts by a duplicate register. Sense of "dominate, direct" is mid-15c. Related: Controlled; controlling.
Control group in scientific experiments is attested from 1952 (from a sense of control attested since 1875).